Why Excellence Is a Full Time Job

Juventus FC v AS Roma - Serie A
The 2014 Brazilian World Cup is one of beauty, prestige and flamboyance – where the true modern footballing greats gather in gladiatorial combat in a quest to discover which country can rightfully claim to be the best on earth.

Andrea Pirlo is one of these greats; an Italian player who orchestrates the field of play like no other.

In effect, he is to the Italian national team what Tom Brady is to the Patriots. Everything goes through him. Like a chess grandmaster who permanently resides three moves ahead – he simply receives the ball and sets it off again. Pass, pass, pass; each one finding a team mate with the vision of a hawk and the composure of a man playing a child’s game.

Saturday June 14th – Italy are playing England at the Arena Amazônia in Manaus, deep in the Amazonian rainforest. A largely even game in terms of attacking intent, yet one statistic shone through like a beacon of excellence. This wasn’t really Italy versus England…

It was Pirlo versus England.

The man with the greatest man-beard in football made 108 passes during the 90 minute game, with a first half completion rate of 96%.

For you non-football fans out there – that’s fucking good.

As an example; two years earlier at Euro 2012, Pirlo also played England and completed more passes than the entire English midfield put together.

So, why is this man so dominant on the field of play? We’ll get back to Pirlo a little later. Firstly, let’s talk about Justin Bieber…

You are what you do the most

There is a reason why fish are capable of swimming in the darkest waters, why birds are able to soar into the heavens with more grace and poise than any plane in existence and why Justin Bieber is able to piss off more people than anyone thought possible.

It’s simply because that is what they spend most of their time doing. If you do something every single day then you cannot fail to become proficient at it. It’s just a rule, a fact. There are no alternatives. Let’s say you spend 8 hours a day playing the guitar; unless you are doing something disastrously wrong, it will be impossible for you to achieve mediocrity if you’re putting that much time and effort into practising.

Excellence is not for part timers.

Every single one of you reading this actually has experience in this area. You can all speak your native language better than any linguist, polyglot or immigrant to your country. Of course it’s possible to gain fluency with as little as 12 months practice but it’s almost impossible to truly sound like a native unless you’ve been living and experiencing this language every day from a young age.

Now think about what it is you really want to do with your life. When you’re at work bored out of your mind, what is it that you wish you were doing instead?

THAT is what you should be doing; every day.

Now I’m not saying you should immediately quit your job to join the circus and become the world’s greatest clown juggler. You have bills to pay, mouths to feed and people to take care of. I get that.

By the way; I am referring to a clown who juggles – not a person who juggles clowns. It’s hard enough finding a clown that doesn’t scare the shit out of you, let alone finding enough of the fucks who are light enough to throw up in the air in a circular motion. That’s just absurd.

Anyway – the brilliance is that you don’t have to make any drastic decisions to change your life.

Warning: Jamie is about to start another time based rant. He likes doing that.

He also likes talking in the third person.

I’m willing to bet you waste a lot of time watching TV or aimlessly browsing the internet.

Maybe you spend too much time reading blog posts involving clowns.

Thank you by the way; you’re awesome.

My point is that you could easily free up a few hours each day to work on your craft if you really wanted to. Maybe you could wake up an hour earlier in the morning and go to bed an hour later at night. That’s 2 hours right there.

Put down WhatsApp and only use the internet when you actually have to do something. That’s another 2 hours.

You’re up to 4 hours a day now, and counting days off, which you could easily add another 2 hours on top; you now have well over 30 hours of spare time during the week to do what you truly love.

How could you not become excellent?

The secret to mastering your craft

This is what success takes. It’s very easy to view those in lofty positions and think that they have something that most of us do not.

They do.

It’s called an insane work ethic and a refusal to accept their lot.

These people weren’t born with any superhuman powers or into circumstances that handed success on a plate. They found time in their schedule and they didn’t allow whatever pathetic excuses their brains tried to come up with to derail them from their destination.

They wanted it and they NEEDED to have it.

It has to become a compulsion. No change can be made without true intrinsic desire for success. Even if you haven’t found your true calling yet, don’t worry, you will; and when you do, you need to be prepared to accept the challenge.

Sitting on the throne of excellence

pirlo taking a free kick

If there is one thing that history has taught us, it’s that all the important stuff happens while sitting on the toilet.

Elvis strained a little too hard and gave himself a heart attack. Hank Schrader casually learned of his brother in-laws meth related tomfoolery and Tywin Lannister… well, I won’t spoil anything for you…

But it’s the location in which Andrea Pirlo finally discovered the secret to a problem that remained elusive until this moment.  As he states in his brilliant book ‘I think therefore I play’…

The best ideas come about in moments of total concentration … My own Eureka moment arrived when I was sat on the toilet. Hardly romantic, but there you go.

The search for Juninho’s secret had become an obsession for me, to the extent that it occupied my every waking thought. It was at the point of maximum exertion that the dam burst, in every sense of the term.

Pirlo was already one of the best free-kick takers in the world. As a child he would push the living room sofa up against the window to use as a wall for shooting practice with a sponge ball. Aiming for the little spot between the sofa and the window and nailing it 9 times out of 10. But this wasn’t enough. He wanted more.

This obsession for excellence found a new target. His name is Juninho pernambucano.

Widely regarded as the greatest free-kick taker in modern football, Pirlo dissected everything this Brazilian had to offer.  Collecting every DVD he could find, studying every free kick he ever took frame by frame. Nothing was left to chance – Pirlo knew he was doing something different, but what? It plagued him throughout his career, and he only found the answer a few years ago.

The idea hit him on the toilet. It was just a thought – maybe a misfiring neuron; but enough to cause Pirlo’s face to light up like a kid at Christmas. He had been looking at it the wrong way. It wasn’t where he was striking the ball, but how. Instead of using the whole foot to make contact, Juninho used just three toes – genius.

The following morning, Pirlo made his way to the training ground and tested out his theory with amazing success. Every shot cleared the dummy wall and found its target.

This wasn’t luck. This was a prime example of someone achieving excellence forged through years of effort and determination. Even when he became one of the world’s great players, his standards never slipped. He wanted more. He didn’t just rest on his laurels as one of the best dead ball experts in the game – he wanted to match his hero and it was this relentless pursuit for an answer that unearthed his eventual three-toed discovery.

The only time is now

When was the last time that you pursued a goal with this intensity?

What is it that you want to achieve more than anything else?

It’s time to eliminate the excuses

Where there is a will, there is a way. Find that spare time and make it count. Those hours will add up and by the end of the week you will be surprised to learn how much time you have actually spent honing your skills. There are 168 hours in the week. There is no reason why you cannot find at least 30 hours in there to set you on your way to become what you have always wanted.

Excellence doesn’t reward the weak and the lazy.

Like I mentioned earlier – the one thing you spend most of your life dreaming about…

Why the fuck aren’t you doing it?

What is it that you spend all day thinking about? Please let me know in the comments!

As always, if you enjoyed this article please share via Facebook or Twitter, thanks.


About Jamie

Jamie is a guitar teacher and writer who hates the typical 9-5 existence. After quitting his job to enter the world of guitar tuition, he created this blog to document his thoughts and struggles as he takes on societies norms armed with nothing more than his cheeky wit and undeniable charm - Give his Facebook page a like, add him on Twitter or follow his Google+ page and he will repay you with even more awesome words!


  1. Pursuing a goal/vision as ruthlessly as footballers takes more than just discipline. They’re doing this for a reason.

    For a lot of people, I see that they want to do something to escape something else (leave their job, start another business, etc). But they’re missing the why.

    Figure out your ‘why’ and you’re half way to solving the productivity problem.

    And then, of course, read everything Jamie’s written on productivity (his time-based rants) and get to work 🙂
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    • A lot of footballers tend to stop improving once they reach 27 or so – but Pirlo is 35 and seems to be getting better with age. Top players are obviously highly self motivated – but he is one of a handful at this level who continually strive to improve.

      The why is important. you’re so right there. Knowing the ‘why’ solves many of life’s problems.

      Time-based rants rock 😉

  2. Hey Jamie,

    What do I spend all day thinking about?

    Philosophy, ethics, and self-development. So that’s what I’m writing about non-stop now. Feels good. Have written for about 8 hours so far today and counting (this doesn’t count).

    Thanks for the history-mention, btw.

    “For you non-football fans out there – that’s fucking good.”

    — Haha. Thanks, I needed that explanation!

    Shared on G+ & Buffer.
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    • Ludvig, that’s a crap ton of writing. How do you manage to do that? Do you simply have a lot to say or is it a case of practicing as much as possible to get better?

      Thanks for the shares!

  3. I definitely agree that we all have lots of time available that we could put to better use.

    On the other hand, there are people like myself who enjoy lots of different things and don’t want to focus on just one. I’ll probably never be excellent at anything and that’s okay.
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    • I’m the same, Ed. I have all of my fingers in a ton of pies. But I do think it’s important to have one skill or hobby that stands ahead of the rest. For me, this is obviously playing the guitar. The problem can be when taking too many things on and feeling overwhelmed as a result. Something I felt earlier this year. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Writing is something I would like to be excellent at… but I’m still not quite sure what kind of writing that is. I probably should revive my fiction writing efforts, and perhaps it would help me be more terse and improve my storytelling, so could transfer over to other writing efforts. My only concern is that it would probably only increase the time spent staring at a screen… although, in theory, I could probably write a whole piece with my eyes closed and not have many errors at all.

    Also funny that my recent post what about how I went about getting myself to write more (aka, taking steps towards excellence). Although I’m not quite taking strides, my daily steps are growing a little in size every week.
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    • Hey, Writing is a tough skill to get right. It’s like comedy. You could be funny to some people but not to others. I think though that you have to write for yourself more than anything – that way you’re definitely reaching a certain kind of person. I definitely think your writing has improved since I’ve been reading your articles – I think living a more interesting life certainly helps. Pushing your comfort zone and living halfway around the world! Passion breeds creativity! 🙂

  5. Mihael Keehl says:

    At first I think their excellence in their craft make them rich and famous, forget about how messy Justin Bieber’s life is, even in his most stupid act the people (paparazzi and gossipers included) are buying into his stupidity, and he’s good at that, his excellency is making nonsensical headlines. It makes that boy well-known, rich, and famous (although most in a bad way).

    TBH, I’m not a fan of any sport’s star player in particular, but then, I think this Pirlo you are talking about just do whatever makes him happy, do what he wants and maybe even if he don’t try to be good at that sport, just being himself alone makes him an excellence player just like Bieber. Maybe (just maybe) even if someone never intends to be excellent in his craft he can (still) be excellent in it simply by doing it, because that what makes him happy, that what makes him feel good, that describes him as a person, or that is who he is ? It’s a natural talent, a little effort is enough to perfect it .. as simple as abra kadabra …. all he need is to believe he can do it (is that right Believers ?) and to be determined at it (just like Pirlo) and more importantly to act according to it. Correct me if I’m wrong Jaime, I aspire to be a great writer somehow … huhu.

    • Mihael, achieving excellence is definitely about personal happiness. To reach a high level you have to be doing it for yourself (and maybe be selfish too). I don’t believe in natural talent though – for me it is all about hard work! Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Brilliant writing mate. I loved reading this post. It is the second one of yours I have read, but it has me hooked. I’m stoked to read more. I loved the example of Pirlo. He won me over after watching that Italy v England game.

    Thank you for sharing the quote from his book. I heard the commentators mentioned he had a book that just came out. I have to look into buying it.
    I agree that we have so much time, yet we waste it on so many little things. I need to focus on being more efficient with my life.
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  7. You see, I like when we people just tell the truth. I get a little fatigued with the quick-tip, cut-corner, how-to rhetoric. We have technology, and it’s nice, and it let’s us do cool things ridiculously quickly, like make pot noodles hot or speak to someone on the other side of the planet and see their face whilst doing so. But there are just some things that take time, and that require unfashionable old fashioned boring traits like patience, perseverance, commitment. So, thanks for telling the truth. If being excellent at something was easy, everyone would do it. Cool read.
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